At the advent of popular television in the 1950s, dozens of experienced actors, looking for sustained work and interesting roles, but no longer part of the regular rotation of teen mag-targeted movie casts, found what they were looking for in hour-long teleplays sponsored by manufacturers and corporations. In 2015, something similar is happening: there are few opportunities closer to a sure thing than a television show produced for Netflix, which is where Carrie-Anne Moss’s latest work will be found starting November 20, following a few years split between genre films (Pompeii, Silent Hill: Revelation) and network television (Chuck, Vegas).
Jessica Jones is the second in Marvel Comics’ television series lineup for Netflix, and looks to continue much of the same tone and style of Daredevil from earlier this year: street-level heroes who find themselves in an uneasy mixture of noir and crime fiction. There’s no galactic portals or invasions, instead the series takes place in dimly-lit apartments and offices in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where thunderous downpour and psychological realism are the set-pieces. These are still comic-book characters, but the lengthier format allows the series creators, in this case Melissa Rosenberg, in her first show to be guaranteed a full season after experience on Dexter, The O.C., and the legal dramas of David E. Kelley, to go over a narrative of city-wide corruption line-by-line.
Moss plays Jeryn Hogarth, a business lawyer in the comics, who hires Jones (Krysten Ritter), a private detective. Between the two of them, there will no doubt be plenty of opportunities for character conflict and revelation as they encounter new cases each episode. Vancouver Weekly talked to Moss about her role on the show ahead of its premiere later this week.
VW: There’s been a lot of talk about how shows produced for Netflix are different compared to other television. Did you feel any difference in the pace of production or in any other way, compared to your work on network television?
Moss: I wouldn’t say, necessarily, the pace of it, so much as I think you’re able to be more creative on a Netflix show. Network television is really controlled by the advertisers. And so I’ve often felt in network television, not to say that there isn’t some great network television, because of course there is, but I always felt like, creatively, that looking to go to a demographic, being creative around a demographic, can drain your creativity a little bit. I’m not a writer, but I can only imagine doing something like a Netflix show, you just have more freedom.
VW: How did you go about creating your character after reading the script? Do you ever draw on your past work or do you try and do something completely different every time?
Moss: I think every time it’s different, because the story’s different, the creative process is different, I’m different.
In television it’s a little different, because I’m seeing all of the scripts each episode just before we’re shooting it, so I don’t know where the character’s going. A lot of it is being true to the script and really leaning on the writing and, for this show, I think the writing is really good.
You lean on the writing, you do your homework, you bring the truth to it, and you work off the other person in the scene. Once you know what you want and you know where you’re going, then you’re leaning on the show to support you. Every process is different because every character is different to get into, but for me it’s not such an intellectual process as it’s intuitive.
VW: How did direction work on the show? Was Melissa Rosenberg involved in the day-to-day?
Moss: She was there in the beginning, and I talked to her on the phone during the shooting, but she wasn’t there every day. The directors were in direct communication with her.
In TV, you have a different director every episode, so you have to know what you’re doing and what your character’s about and then be open to the direction. And that’s tricky in television, because sometimes you know your character better than the director does, because they’re just coming in to do one or two episodes. It’s a dance for sure.
VW: And each director might communicate differently. Is that something you have to adjust to?
Moss: Yeah, I think it’s human. It’s just like life.
I think I’m a pretty good communicator. I like being part of a team. I like to uplift the set when I work. I like to support other people in doing their jobs, and I believe, as an actor, that I’m part of the wheel. I’m one of the spokes of the wheel, and the person doing craft services is another spoke, and the lighting guy is another spoke, and the director, and we’re all equal spokes to create the end result. And so as that team player, my job is to be able to work with everybody. Is that always easy? Not always, but I’m a real people person, so it’s very rare that I’m challenged by someone, to be honest, in a work environment situation.
VW: You recently worked on Brain on Fire, which shot in Vancouver, but as New York. What was it like actually working in New York for this show?
Moss: Personally, it was amazing, because I’ve never spent any time in New York. I loved it, it was like learning about a whole new world.
A lot of the things I shot were interior, so really, honestly could have shot them anywhere. But the tone of the show, the city is definitely a character in the show. It was really important that they shot in New York.
VW: Did you have time when you weren’t on set to explore the city?
VW: What was that like? Did it influence anything you did on the show?
Moss: I’m sure, because I think everything influences us. It’s not like my creativity or what I do for work is a different part of me than all of me. For sure it did.
I flew home a lot, because I live in L.A., and so I was flying in to work for a few days and then home and back and forth. So I was doing that bi-coastal thing. But definitely being there changed me. I think I grew up, in a way.
And, I mean it sounds so silly, but there were technological things that I had not really been exposed to. I started watching Netflix, because I was away from home and I had this space and time where I could watch a whole season of House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black. Where, when I’m at home in L.A., I have a lot of things to do because I have a household, I’m a mom, I have a whole life going on. But there I was working, and when I wasn’t working I had free time.
VW: Do you not usually have a lot of time to watch movies or read books, or do you keep any of that sort of thing up to keep inspired as an actor?
Moss: I look at life in that way, because — I love watching movies and television shows — but I look to my life to inspire me. I think it’s a never-ending process, the creative process, and just going through the ups and downs of that, feeling total massive amounts of creativity, and then feeling nothing and getting through that, and then having a breakthrough around something, I think it all, for me, serves all of it.
VW: Just one last question: When the show’s released next week, will you be curious about the instant responses from people, or do you usually avoid that kind of thing?
Moss: I can’t wait to hear what people think of it. I’m so excited for Krysten Ritter — I think she’s amazing and I’m her biggest cheerleader. I’m thrilled to see how the show does, so I’ll be checking it out, see what people think. I mean, I’m not super attached to any of that, but I’m also totally excited about it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.